Growing up as a Baptist in the South typically meant one of two things, either you were Southern Baptist or Independent Baptist. I knew that mom did not wear long dresses all the time and we were too much of Haleons to be Independent. I really didn’t know there were other ways of being Baptist.
As I immersed in the college experience, learning about church history and being introduced to a plethora of ecclesial traditions, I began to see that there was not one way of being and doing the church. Moreover, there were not one or two ways of being Baptist, but hundreds of ways.
I am grateful for my rearing in the Baptist church. For apart from it, I would not have been discipled or given the opportunity to learn about missions and a love for Scripture.
However, as my journey opened up to the multifaceted expressions of the church, I slowly gravitated to this rag-tag group known as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Their beginning was somewhat mottled and contentious, depending on who you asked. They were formed out of controversy and a desire for a fresh start. They were forged through heartbreak, sorrow, hope, and renewal.
The more I got to know this network, the more I identified with who they are and what they stand for. It took me a while to get used to not having a doctrinal statement to guide my thoughts or direct the churches I was serving. Nevertheless, this slow familiarization quickly broadened my understanding of what it means to be Baptists.
Baptists, historically speaking, have never been creedal people. They’ve never taken to doctrinal statements beyond what the Christians have traditionally accepted as sound theology. Instead, what you find with the Cooperative Baptist is a desire to unite on the things that we have in common: a love for God, desire to follow Jesus, believers’ baptism, the call to serve the world through missions, the local autonomy of the church to govern itself and discern how God is working contextually, the priesthood of believers to be the body of Christ, religious freedom for all people, and the authority of Scripture to give wisdom and form our way of living.
This last week, I joined the throng of Cooperative Baptists in Birmingham, Alabama. As I have experienced in the last, nearly 20 years, these are my colleagues, peers, mentors, and sojourners on this great spiritual migration. These are people that give me life, affirmation, endearing refinement, and a reminder of why I do what I do. I am humbled by the sacrifice of global missionaries (field personnels), the call of chaplains, the leap of faith of church starters, the challenge of seeking justice through partner organizations, the courage of young people and second career persons to follow God’s calling into seminary, and on and on.
Although you were not there, you are the Cooperative Baptists. At its best, CBF is not a governing denomination, but a beautiful fellowship of over 2,000 churches, hundreds of missionaries, over 5,000 clergies, dozens of partner schools, and hundreds of thousands of local church members. You are the living evidence that being Baptist (priesthood of believers, global and local missions, scriptural authority, and etc.) matters in this world.
While most people do not interject themselves in the day-to-day affairs of partnering organizations, such as the CBF, know that UBC is a living example of partnering together in renewing God’s world.